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Annals of Optimism
Why we should give a hang about the Obamas' puppy
By Tony Camacho
It was a moment made for television. Just minutes before, Barack Obama had been officially named president-elect of the United States. Countless millions watched as he assured us that, yes, we can do this and that. And then he caught us all by surprise. He turned to his daughters and said that they would be getting a new puppy to take to the White House.
A puppy. Sitting in a Sonoma County home that was deflating in value like a leaking bicycle tire, I thought, "A puppy?" Numb from the horrors of an endless war, not to mention the image I can't shake of all our schoolchildren nationwide holding hands and slowly circling the drain, and he's talking about a puppy?
Lately, I haven't had to go much farther than my own block to find problems. At the corner market, I ran into a young man in his twenties who tried to sell me his food stamps so that he could make the rent. At that same market, I gave a dollar to a homeless woman and found that she was Hispanic like me, over 70 years old, couldn't speak a word of English and was carrying what was left of her life hanging in bags from a creaky old bicycle that she pushed along the side of the road.
But I was surprisingly comforted at Barack's casual comment, and I can thank an old Texan professor for providing me the needed perspective.
While attending college in Texas, I took a film-appreciation class. One day, the professor asked us to name our all-time favorite movies, and the titles came spilling out. When Harry Met Sally sat next to Cool Hand Luke. Casablanca and Pretty Woman suspiciously eyed Road Warrior and A Fistful of Dollars. The majority of the gals enjoyed warm and cuddly films, and the majority of the guys enjoyed the smell of spent gunpowder on celluloid. The professor asked us to consider why this was, and gave us a week to think about it. I finally stumbled on an answer, but it's taken me 55 years, some marriages and a couple of kids to spell it out. I probably still have it wrong, but here goes.
I unapologetically pay homage to Sergio Leone films. I taught my wife to shoot a rifle, and I'll teach my girls when they're older. For the time being, I play fairy king and storm the castle that the girls build in the living room. I dutifully marvel when they enter wearing tiaras and gowns, and I'm still slipping shining dimes under their pillows and sneaking away with their tiny lost teeth. And while they sleep, I watch mixed martial arts.
If a woman is lucky, she gets to freely choose whether or not to bring a child into her personal circumstances and into this world. After all, who wants to bring a helpless child into a hopeless world? A quick look at history shows that when a new day is dawning in various parts of the world, bringing hope and a brighter future, the birth rate rises like yeast on a sunny day.
Maybe cuddly films are a reflection of our wanting the best for our children. My guess is that even Santa Claus wants to believe in something. In a Harry Met Sally world, free-range love with no artificial dyes or colors really does carry the day. Humphrey Bogart sends the woman he loves into the arms of the man that she loves. We revere the nobility of King Arthur, and perpetuate the giving spirit of Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. We find hope and strength in the words of Mohammad and the Torah and the Bible. And we want to believe, truly believe, that a man with the weight of the globe's darkening problems on his slender shoulders is sincerely talking to his daughters about getting a puppy.
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That was a Harry Met Sally moment. I know this because my wife turned to me and said, "I'll bet women are feeling better about having babies after tonight." I stared at her. I only wish I could cut and paste that moment to share with my old film-appreciation professor. Who would've believed that that a few words about getting a fragrance-free or hairless hound was enough to spread a little hope? So I guess we should give a hang about the puppy. Our world can use a good dose of hope.
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